This guest commentary is a joint op-ed submitted by presidents of the following chambers of commerce: Kentucky Chamber, Greater Louisville Inc., Commerce Lexington, Northern Kentucky Chamber, Paducah Area Chamber, Bowling Green Area Chamber and Hardin County Chamber.
With Republicans recently gaining control of the state House of Representatives, the business community is optimistic that the legislature will take on a pro-growth, business-friendly agenda in 2017. We are particularly hopeful that a bill supported by the governor and all majority legislative leaders in the House and Senate will be at the top of the list: right-to-work.
Being designated as a right-to-work state will be a strong signal to business leaders that Kentucky offers a positive business environment. Many businesses, especially overseas firms, begin their search for new locations by only considering right-to-work states.
Passage of a right-to-work law would represent an important step in Kentucky’s efforts to recruit and retain well-paying jobs. The law doesn’t prohibit workers from joining unions. Instead, it frees them from being forced to pay union dues just to keep their jobs. Our chambers of commerce believe union membership should be a matter of personal choice, and the freedom not to affiliate with a labor union is no less deserving of protection than the freedom to affiliate. Contrary to critics who claim this legislation would eliminate opportunities to affiliate with a union, a 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that unions gained more members in the then-permitted 25 right-to-work states compared to non-right-to-work states.
Right-to-work laws are now in place in 26 states. In fact, Kentucky is the only Southern state without a right-to-work law. The recent enactment of right-to-work laws in Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan makes Kentucky a conspicuous outlier in this much needed area of reform.
States with right-to-work laws report faster per capita income growth, faster growth in manufacturing and non-agricultural jobs, greater capital expenditures, lower unemployment and fewer work stoppages.
Let’s look at Michigan, which passed a right-to-work law in 2012. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since that time the unemployment rate has dropped from 9 percent to 4.5 percent, the state has added more than 263,000 jobs, and wages are up 5 percent.
As Kentucky struggles to become more competitive – recruiting new businesses, retaining the ones we have and encouraging expansion in all sectors – our failure to enact right-to-work legislation means we have ceded important ground to other states. Building our economy is a challenge. Why should we make it even more difficult by holding on to antiquated and unnecessary practices that take away workers’ freedom of choice?
More than a dozen Kentucky counties have passed a right-to-work ordinance, with Warren County being the first to take up the issue in December 2014. It is now time to give all Kentuckians that same opportunity and pass a right-to-work law that will truly send a message that our Commonwealth is open for business.